Immediate apology: this is not about going crazy.  It’s about getting sane.  I know that’s less interesting.

But: some people like to read about how sanity can return.  Especially the currently insane.  If you’re not insane, and think you could never be, or that no tough, clever person could ever go crazy, then you can stop here.  And if you think insanity is sexy and exciting, like Van Gogh was sexy and exciting, you should go read some poetry by some dude on acid.  Or try cutting off your ear.  Enjoy.

After several months of antidepressants,  my panic attacks and anxiety have settled down.  I dropped back to worrying, only occasionally, that I might get crazy-anxious.   Normal-anxious is like oh, I’m worried about these bills.  Crazy-anxious is like, oh, God, the walls are pressing in.  It’s definitely hard to understand if you’re not, you know, insane.  Six months ago, I never would have believed it.

It comforted me to refer to myself as insane, as sick.  It suggested that I could get sane, and well.   I have.  (Knock on wood.)

I told an old friend, “If I had done drugs with you back in the day, this wouldn’t seem so scary to me.  I would be used to having my head messed with.  It wouldn’t scare me so much.”  He agreed that this was a great loss.  My previous experiences with mind-altering substances weren’t good preparation for psychiatric drugs.  Because I am a ninny.

The first drugs that messed with my mind were actually for migraines.  One induced my first official panic attack.  Then, with another, I had that oft-mentioned “thoughts of suicide” thing.  Yeah, that’s unpleasant.  At least the tone of these thoughts didn’t sound like me (even crazier, right?).  So I felt sure that it was a side effect, and not something I’d brought to the party.

After such unpleasant experiences, I had to be in a lot of discomfort to try another drug.  It took months of wrestling crazy-variety anxiety for me to voluntarily add the anxiety of ingesting new chemicals.  I thought taking antidepressants would mean I was weak and crazy.  Well, I was weak and crazy.  Before and after I took the pills, I obsessively read about them.  I realized, to my chagrin and to my amusement, that you can’t really believe any of those drug reviews because they’re all written by crazy people.  Especially the reviews of anxiety drugs!  If leaving the house could scare me silly, how do you think I felt about pills from a bottle covered with stern official medical warnings?

(Aside: I love the website , which is irreverent to the point of crudeness.  It’s the only place I found descriptions and explanations on this topic that left me wry rather than depressed.  Sample text: “If you’re in shock about or trying to understand the whole overwhelming deal of medications and being classified as some flavor of mentally interesting / mentally ill / batshit crazy, or want to know what this site is all about, just keep reading.  I know, the meds suck donkey dong.)

“The worst thing in the world would be to know that you were losing your mind,” someone told me.  “Not really,” I said.  “Been there.  Done that.”  Accepting you’re sick in the head, getting brave enough to be labeled as sick, and take scary pills.  Ugly clouds.  Two small silver linings: I have huge new empathy for the mentally ill (many of them are way worse off than me), and I’m no longer afraid of losing my mind.  Been there.  Done that.

South Seas

The neurology PA is not much of a negotiator.  “No coffee, dairy, or alcohol,” she says.

“All my life I have worried that some doctor, somewhere, was going to tell me I couldn’t drink coffee or red wine, and this is that time,” I said.  My third round of weeklong headache.

“There are all kinds of fabulous teas out there,” she said.

Tea is for sissies.  And I am a writer.  I’m already not an alcoholic, so how can I compete with say, Ernest Hemingway?  Not with tea!

“And would you mind a B-12 injection?”

I would not.  After paying a $50 copay, I feel a little let down if they don’t stick me.  Let’s go.

Afterwards, I went to Whole Foods and bought an outrageously expensive vat of something that is supposed to make me feel better by putting it in the healthy smoothies that I don’t want to make.  This vat, with its somber, copious scrawlings, practically screams, “Cures mysterious illness!”

It was the product intended for every shopper at Whole Foods with mysterious symptoms or diagnoses.  It was something you could buy to make yourself feel better.  You could buy.  You could consume.  You would be okay.  Glug glug.

“Ooh, how many carbs are in that?” a woman behind me in line asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  And I didn’t care.  I might be being scammed, but then again, I didn’t really mind.  When a crazy drunk in a bar tells me a great story, which is probably a terrific lie,  I’m happy because it was so entertaining.  I don’t give a damn if it’s true.  Likewise,  if the protein powder made me feel like I was fixing myself, then I guess it was worth as much as a very nice bottle of wine.  Truth is in value, in the moment, not literalism.

The world of migraine is a world of fear.  My morning juice is too sugary!  My coffee is poison, further polluted with half and half!  My house could be crawling with mold!  Walking around the grocery store, everything looked delicious and forbidden.  Glorious, thick cow’s milk!  Aisles of red wine, each bottle’s heart beating fondly for me!  I popped a cute champagne-blonde cheese sample in my mouth, even though I’m not so fond of cheese, just to show my doctor who was boss.

No, not fear: adventure.  I spent 33 years in the dull realm of ibuprofin and Excedrin, and near-perfect health, but now my body is an exotic pharmacological playground.  It’s like I’ve moved from Kansas to the Caribbean.  Wild new sensations, vocabulary, landscapes, characters.  I may have moved there permanently– hard to say– so await further dispatches.  There is a giant whale of occasional head pain that swims by, and I am attempting to kill or capture it.  With greater success, I hope, than the protagonist of my dear hero, Mr. Melville, but with all that vim and vigor, and enthusiastic wordplay.

Brain Based

A migraine is good for creative types, because it has to do with your brain.  The brain and the lungs are the best sites for artistic diseases.  Lung problems give you coughing, and coughing is a clear, dramatic, and not-too-gross way of showing your suffering.  (See “La Boheme.”)  A lot of artists have genital diseases, which stamp a certain romantic passport– they could be a sign of a life lived big and well.  It could mean you are really sexy.  On the other hand, they may either limit your future romantic options, or, in this day and age, be too easily dismissed with penicillin to even be noticed.  So I’m going to insist that brain is best.  If your brain thing messes with your perception of the world, even better.  My brain symptoms are more about accidentally tripping over a stair, and not being able to see straight, but seeing straight is so bourgeoise, anyway.  Migraines, depression, addiction– all juicy mind problems.  Very romantic.

Yesterday, the migraine and I went clothes shopping, because I had wanted to do that on my three-day weekend, damnit, and I was going to go, just slower than usual.  I flipped through a rack of t-shirts and when one fell down, because I’d yanked it wrong, I wanted to kill it.  Someone bumped into me, trying to get by, and I wanted to kill her, too.  In the dressing room, I gingerly took my clothes off, and put the prospective clothes on, slowly, slowly.  I banged my elbow on the metal divider.  Loud and hard.  I’m so clumsy, I’ve done this in perfect health, but it still made me mad.  Why was I feeling this way?  The anger at being sick is worse than the sickness, for me.  I was mad at the sun shining in my eyes at the video store, mad at the huge selection of acrylic paint tubes at Coldsnow.  There were too many to look at and figure out.  Mimi would have coughed all over the canvases.  Buy one get one free.

Being stuck with your thoughts has turned a lot of people creative, just out of self-preservation.  If you can run away from yourself fast enough, maybe you don’t have to build things or get troubled about what it all means.  I had no chronic childhood illness to confine me to books and fantasies.  I love those stories of sick kids and tortured kids and disabled kids becoming artists, though.  You were stuck, so you had to make something of it.  Were you talented before your scarlet fever?  Who knows?

I think I have a migraine when my body and brain are so overwhelmed that they are forced to pull the plug on me.  They know it will take extreme measures to make me pull the car over, so they shut down.  I pull over.  I rest.  That’s a little story I made up to set some sense into possibly random events, to make something interesting or neat with it.  It’s just my habit.